One of history’s biggest con jobs

16Jun06

alexander_graham_bell.jpg

Alexander Graham Bell, widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest inventor and scientist. Notable inventions include the photophone, metal detector, and hydrofoil, but what he's really remembered and known for is being the inventor of the telephone.

Bell was honored on the television programmes the 100 Greatest Britons (2002), the 100 Greatest Americans (2005), and in the top ten Greatest Canadians (2004), and remains the only person to be on one or more of the programs. There's hardly a soul who doesn't know who he is and what he's achieved. But did you know, that Bell was actually also a fraudster, a cheat and practically a Nazi?

The story of Antonio Meucci remains unknown to most. An Italian American, Meucci was an inventor who first demonstrated a working model of an electric device he called the teletrofono in 1860. Sound familiar? Having spent most of his live savings in pursuing his work, Meucci was unable to commercialise his invention, and coupled with his poor grasp of the English language, could only file for a caveat (as opposed to a patent) in 1871, five years before Bell's telephone patent.

In the same year, he was badly scalded in an accident. Injured and living on state assistance, Meucci failed to send the $10 required to renew his caveat in 1874. Bell, who had worked in the same lab as Meucci, registered his patent in 1876. Even more extraordinarily, all of Meucci's original sketches and working models in the lab had mysteriously disappeared. Meucci sued, and the Supreme Court moved to annul the patent issued to Bell on grounds of fraud and misrepresentation, but Meucci died and the case was discontinued as moot since the Bell patent had expired. Bell thus remained credited as the inventor of the telephone. Bastard.

10_01f.jpgImagine, if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell and the name rolling off our tongues now would be Meucci. Because seriously, metal detectors and hydrofoils (?!) just don't cut it.

The US House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2001, to correct the impression that the modern telephone was the invention of Alexander Graham Bell and no one else. Symbolic, but popular perception remains unchanged. Typical of Americans to steal something, then pat themselves on the back and strut around like peacocks.

Bell was connected with the eugenics movement in the US, and advocated passing laws that established the compulsory sterilization of people deemed to be (in Bell's own words) "a defective variety of the human race". Such eugenics laws were used as a model for eugenics laws in Nazi Germany. In addition to advocating sterilization of the deaf, Bell wished to prohibit deaf teachers from being allowed to teach in schools for the deaf and worked to outlaw the marriage of deaf individuals to one another. His avowed goal was to eradicate the language and culture of the deaf so as to force them to integrate into the hearing culture for their own long-term benefit and for the benefit of society at large.800px-telephone-modele-w48.jpg

A national hero? Hardly. So the next time you pick up the telephone, do give credit to where it's due, instead of a fraudster.

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7 Responses to “One of history’s biggest con jobs”

  1. 1 jj

    Wow. The vitrole. Why so much hate man?

  2. 2 dawn

    i feel so cheated! ALL MY LIFE I’VE BEEN BELIEVING IN A LIE!!!!!!!! THE PAINNNNN!!

  3. Very vitriolic meh? We’ve all been cheated! And for people who’ve done biomedical law, i’m sure the compulsory sterilization thing hits a raw nerve.

  4. 4 dogbert

    this world has enough people who are pure junk. eugenics dont sound like a bad idea to me because they are just so dumb!

  5. it’s good to have you back dogbert!

  6. 6 jj

    Eh, your experiment die liao ah?

  7. 7 Moto

    “Typical of Americans to steal something, then pat themselves on the back and strut around like peacocks.”

    Um, Meucci was an American, dipshit. Try making your arguments coherent.


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